Pagan Christs, by John M. Robertson, , at sacred-texts.com
The true judgment on the comparative merits of religions is to be reached by noting the manner of their evolution; and when this is impartially done the student is led, not to any racial palm-giving on the score of "religious genius," but to a new sense of the significance of social and political factors, and a compassionate realisation of the ill-fortune of all high aspirations among men. Genius for moral and philosophical thought as distinguished from literary expression is to be recognised here and there in all the old religious literatures; and even as regards literary genius there is little weight in estimates which appreciate the Hebrew books on the one hand in an enthusiastically eloquent rendering and on the other dimly divine the Gentile literatures through the cerecloths of dead scripts, whereof the scrupulous interpreters convey the very deadness as assiduously as the Elizabethans sought for transfigurement in translation. What is common to all the ancient literatures is the fatality by which the "general deed of man" determines the general thought.
In ancient Babylonia, the scholars are now agreed, there was a highly evolved yet not highly imperialised State, ruled by an enlightened Akkado-Babylonian king named Hammurabi, 5 two
thousand three hundred years before our era, and long ages before historic Hellas was so named. This polity failed and fell, and on its ruins there rose successively the terrible and tyrannous empires of Assyria and later Babylon, wherein no doctrine of civil freedom could survive, though the code of Hammurabi remained the code of his people. Under such rule, whatever flower of moral genius might bloom in high or cloistered places, men in the mass could not be aught but fixedly superstitious, morally shortsighted, good only in virtue of their temperaments and the varying pressure of crude law and cruder custom. Whether they worshipped one God or many, a Most High or a Mediator, a Mother Goddess or a Trinity, their ethic was unalterably narrow and their usage stamped with primeval grossness; for wherever the life of fortuitous peace bred a gentler humanity and a higher civilisation, the Nemesis of empire and conquest hurled a new barbarism on its prey, only to adopt anew the old cults, the old lore, the old delusions. So, on the bases of civilisation laid by the old Sumer-Akkadians, the Babylonian and the Assyrian wrestled and overthrew each other time and again till the Persian overthrew the Babylonian; and all the while the nameless mass from generation to generation dreamed the old dreams, with some changes of God-names and usages, but no transformation of life, and no transfiguration of its sinister battlefield.
In no ancient State, certainly not in pre-exilic Jewry, did men think and brood more over religion, in theory and practice, than they did in Babylon; 1 and in such a hotbed "religious genius" must be presumed to have arisen. But while it could leave its traces in higher doctrine, and join hands fruitfully with nascent science, it could never restore the freer polity of Sumer-Akkadia, though it could humbly cherish the Akkadian dream that Hammurabi would come again, 2 as Messiah, to begin a new age. On the broad fields of sword-ruled ignorance there could thrive only such vain hopes and the rank growths of superstition. Better Gods were not to be set up, save in unseen shrines, on a worsening earth. As in Egypt and in Hindostan, religion was of necessity determined in the main by the life-conditions of the mass; and to the mass, or to powerful classes, priesthoods must always minister.
What Mesopotamian civilisation finally yielded to the common stream of human betterment was the impulse of its cosmogony and its esoteric pantheism to science and philosophy in the new life of unlit perialised Greece, and the concrete store of its astronomical
knowledge, alloyed with its astrology. Its current ethic was doubtless abreast of the Ten Commandments and the Egyptian ritual of the judgment day; and its commerce seems to have evolved an adequate working system of law, besides a notable system of banking; but a civilisation which itself failed to reach popular well-being and international equity could pass on no important moral ideal to posterity. On the contrary, it bequeathed the fatal lust of empire, so that on the new imperial growth of Persia there followed, by way of emulation, that of Macedonia, to be followed by that of Rome, which ended in the paralysis and prostration of the whole civilisation of the Mediterranean world. And in the last stages of that decadence we find arising a nominally new religion which is but a fresh adaptation of practices and principles as old as Akkadia, and which is beset by heresies of the same derivation.
78:5 Winckler, Gesch. Babyloniens and Assyriens, 1892, pp. 64-65; Jastrow, Relig. of Bab. and Assyr., pp. 38-39. Cp. Miss Simcox's Primitive Civilisations, 1894, i, 282-3.
79:1 Jastrow, pp. 245-8; Tiele, Hist. comp., Pp. 243-247.
79:2 Jastrow, pp. 532-3.